Hiring gets tough for Tri-Town businesses

May 24, 2021

Covid restrictions have eased, but some Tri-Town businesses are facing a new challenge: Finding enough staff to keep them fully operational through the busy summer season.

A diminished workforce in the area is forcing some local restaurants to close on days they would prefer to be open, and others to fill orders less quickly than they would like.

The Inn at Shipyard Park in Mattapoisett has been “absolutely’’ affected by lack of applications, particularly for “back of house’’ positions such as cooks, said manager Chrissie Soares.

Open the Inn’s website and the first thing a visitor sees is “We’re hiring.’’ They are seeking line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers, among other positions.

The cooks they do have are already working overtime, Soares said, but even that’s not enough to keep the restaurant open on Mondays and Tuesdays.

“We’d love to be open’’ those days, she said. “But we don’t want the cooks to burn out or for the quality to go down if they’re exhausted. We’ve exhausted all options.’’

Kate Ross, owner of Kate’s Simple Eats in Marion, said her cafe has also had to close Tuesdays due to short-staffing.

She said many of the applicants she’s received have been college or high school students looking for summer jobs. But Ross said she’s looking for employees who can work longer-term.

Ross said she’s hired enough seasonal help to get through the summer — and reopen on Tuesdays — “but come August,” she said, that help will be gone.

“So I’ve been in the kitchen,” Ross said. “I’ve been working every day.”

She said she hasn’t been able to raise wages to incentivize applicants, noting the price of food and sanitary equipment have “skyrocketed.” But, Ross said, “We pay pretty well. We’re above what other places are paying.”

Soares speculated people are “getting enough money to stay at home” from unemployment compensation.

Ross echoed the sentiment, saying the “number one thing — I think — is the unemployment.”

However, Ross said, “we could all speculate, and everyone’s situations are different,” noting that some workers may have found higher-paying work, or have needed to stay home to take care of their families during the pandemic.

Despite the difficulties, Ross said the understanding of her customers and the hard work of her employees are the backbone of her business.

“I don’t think I could have gotten through without them,” she said.

Cooks are also in short supply at Matt’s Blackboard in Rochester, manager Jessica Mattos said.

“We have been looking for a cook for a long time,’’ she said.

The restaurant has placed ads for four months, Mattos said, but had “no bites.’’

The manager wondered if people are “afraid to work’’ because of covid conditions. Plus, she said, with unemployment compensation “a lot of people are getting paid more to stay home’’ than to work, particularly in a part-time job.

Todd Rodrigues, owner of Yard Boss in Mattapoisett, wants to grow his company, but said he’s unable to find the employees to do so.

He said he has spent an “enormous amount of money on advertising’’ to find workers but has received “not one call.”

The second round of stimulus payments have hurt employers, he said. “There’s no incentive, essentially, to work,” he said.

The first round of stimulus payments helped ease people’s nervousness, he said, but he questions the second round.

“I don’t understand why you have to stimulate an economy that doesn’t need stimulating,” he said.

But Elizabeth Carter, owner of Ansel’s Cafe in Marion, isn’t too sure unemployment is to blame for a dwindled workforce.

“I think there’s a lot more that plays into it than people collecting unemployment so they don’t want to work,” she said.

Still, Carter said it’s been hard to find workers this year — echoing Ross’ sentiment that year-round employees are few and far between.

“[It’s] really hard to find anything other than summer help,” Carter said.

And with Carter expecting to go on maternity leave in a few months, she’s going to need people with full availability.

Carter said Ansel’s Cafe hasn’t increased pay to incentivize applicants, but she does offer free meals and cinnamon buns to employees.

“We are having trouble hiring, but we always have trouble hiring here,” Carter said. “It’s a very quirky place to work.”

Burr Brothers Boatyard in Marion has done “lots of advertising’’ and have raised pay rates but “nothing seems to work,’’ owner Tucker Burr said.

“We are literally not getting any applicants. No one’s applying,” he said. “It’s been difficult.”

The shortage of employees is “making it more difficult to get work done,’’ Burr said. That, in turn, slows results for customers, he said.

Burr said he does “not want to speculate” on why he hasn’t received applicants.

Pandolfi’s Mattapoisett Diner was closed for vacation through Tuesday, May 25 but hosted a job fair Monday, May 17.

“We are currently looking to hire reliable, self-motivated, team workers for all positions,” they wrote on their Facebook page. “Also looking for seasonal help to work the outdoors as well as Our Food Trailer for on-site events.’’

Other businesses report that they are holding their own.

Turk’s Seafood Market and Sushi said they have not been affected. “So far, so good,’’ said Kristen, a manager at the eatery who declined to provide her last name. She said some of their employees have worked there for decades.

“We tend to keep the same staff year after year,’’ she said.

Brewfish Bar and Eatery in Marion has “been pretty lucky, to be honest,’’ manager Joe Brager said.

He said dishwashers have been tough to keep, but the situation overall has been “nothing we can’t handle.’’